Paṭicca Samuppāda – “Pati+ichcha” + “Sama+uppāda”

Revised November 3, 2018; July 29, 2019; re-written March 15, 2022

“Yō Paṭiccasamuppādam passati,
so Dhammam passati.
Yō Dhammam passati,
so Paṭiccasamuppādam passati.”

“One who sees Paṭiccasamuppāda
sees the (Buddha) Dhamma.
One who sees the (Buddha) Dhamma
sees Paṭiccasamuppāda.”

(Mahā­hatthi­pa­dopa­ma Sutta (MN 28); at the end)

  • Paṭicca Samuppāda explains how we accumulate kammic energy to “power up” future births. That sustains the rebirth process and will bring rebirths mostly in the apāyās. Thus, Paṭicca Samuppāda explains how future suffering arises.
  • Whenever we get attached to sensory inputs (ārammaṇa) and think, speak, and act with lobha, dosa, and moha, we accumulate such kammic energy. We will discuss that in upcoming posts.
  • Therefore, it is critical to understand Paṭicca Samuppāda; see the next post for details: “Paṭicca samuppāda – Overview.”
  • Here is the pronunciation of Paṭicca Samuppāda:

Paṭicca samuppāda, translated into English as “Dependent Origination,” does not convey the phrase’s accurate, complete meaning. It is better to keep the same name and understand what it means.

  • The closest English translation is “Willful attachment leading to the existence of similar kind.”
Pati+ichcha” + “Sama+uppāda

1. Paṭicca = paṭi + icca;  here, “paṭi” is bonding, and “icca” (pronounced “ichcha”; see #12 below) is liking.

  • Thus, Paṭicca is “bonding to something willingly” or “getting attached to something through a liking for it.”
  • This bonding depends on one’s gati (habits and likings) due to deep-seated āsavas (cravings).
  • There are many posts on the website on this key Pāli term: “gati.” One can get a list of relevant posts by typing “gati” in the “Search” box at the top right. Note that “gati” is pronounced as “gathi.”

2. Samuppāda = “sama” (same or similar) + “uppāda” (generation), i.e.,  an existence (bhava) of similar quality or kind.

Connection to Gati – Simple Example

3. For example, when we generate potent hateful thoughts about a person, we could be in the mindset of an animal. At that moment, we may even behave like an animal, hitting and clawing at that person if things get out of hand. Even if we may not act physically, we will have that “animal-like” mindset.

  • At that moment, we generate a gati (character) corresponding to “bhava,” or existence similar to an animal. That, in turn, leads to grasping a corresponding “bhava.” Then “bhava paccayā jāti” leads to a similar “jāti” or birth, i.e., to act like an animal.
  • We generated a corresponding “bhava” in our minds because we got “bonded” to that situation via hateful thoughtful thoughts; we developed a corresponding “bhava” in our minds. Results (effects) correspond to causes: cause and effect. If we keep creating the same kind of “bhava,” that leads to forming “gati” or habits. They are all interconnected. 
  • Strong feelings under such conditions create subtle energies called “kammic energy.” That energy can build up to create a subtle “manomaya kāya” (gandhabba kāya) corresponding to a new existence (bhava.) 

4. Now, if we keep getting into fights with that person (or with others), we will be building up that “bhava,” and this could lead to the formation of a very potent kamma seed; see, “Saṅkhāra, Kamma, Kamma Bīja, Kamma Vipaka.”

  • Furthermore, it becomes a “gati” as well (see “Saṃsāric Habits and Āsavas“). Then it is easier to get into such situations, and a vicious cycle starts leading to that gati taking hold.
  • Here, it is critical to understand that “uppāda” or “birth” is according to the “bonding with liking” (pati icca) for CAUSES, not the birth itself. For example, no one wants to be born a dog. But one cannot avoid being born a dog if one willingly does “lowly things” appropriate for dogs and thus cultivates “gati suitable for a dog.”

5. Now, we combine the two terms: Paṭicca Samuppāda” means “attachment to something leading to the generation of the corresponding “bhava” (and thus jāti).

  • The establishment of a bhava, in turn, leads to a corresponding jāti or birth: “when one gets attached, it sets up the likelihood of a new birth of similar characteristics.”
  • For example, when someone acts with greed out of habit, they are prone to behave that way during a lifetime. Furthermore, it could be manifested more powerfully in a future birth by being born a  Peta (hungry ghost).
Two Types of Paṭicca Samuppāda

6. Therefore, the establishment of an “existence” (bhava) could be two ways:

A Uppatti Bhava Can Lead to Many Births (Jāti)

7. Here, one should also be able to make a distinction between “bhava” (existence) and “jāti” (birth). For example, a uppatti bhava may give rise to many births until the kammic energy in that kamma seed wears out; see, “Bhava and Jāti – States of Existence and Births Therein.”

  • That is why, even though the human bhava is RARE, one may be reborn a human many times at a stretch. Only those born human in a previous life (or a few lives) can remember those lives; see “Evidence for Rebirth.”
  • Different types of Paṭicca samuppāda cycles are discussed in: “Paṭicca Samuppāda Cycles.”
We Attach via Taṇhā and Avijjā

8. By perceiving illusory happiness, we willingly get attached to pleasurable things. We also get attached to stuff via hate, and the root cause is an attachment to something related.

  • For example, we get “attached” to a person with hate if that person is blocking our access to something we like. We keep thinking about how bad he is, etc.
  • Thus, attachment is possible with greed or hate. That is what “taṇhā” (in Sinhala, “තැනට හාවීම” or “get fused or attached to” in English) means; see, “Tanhā – How We Attach Via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance.”
  • Therefore, realizing that “taṇhā” does not mean just greed is essential. It could also be due to hate or dislike.
Unimaginable Suffering in Some existences (Among the 31 Realms)

9. Ultimately, both desire and hatred arise due to ignorance (avijjā.) Ignorance of not knowing the unfruitful nature of “this world” of 31 realms, i.e., “anicca, dukkha, anatta.”

We Create Our Future Lives!

10. No one else (or an external force) keeps us bound to “this world” of 31 realms; see “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma.”   Like an octopus grabbing its prey with all eight legs, we willingly cling to things in “this world” of 31 realms filled with suffering.

  • Unless we see the true unfruitful and even dreadful (in the lower four realms) nature of ‘this world” by comprehending “anicca, dukkha, anatta,” we will not let go of it.
Use Pāli Words Without Translating to Other Languages

11. The Buddha advised NOT TO translate keywords in Pāli (and even verses in deep suttas) to other languages. In most cases, there are no equivalent words in other languages.

The translation of Paṭicca Samuppāda to Sanskrit as Pratittyasamutpāda is an excellent example of this problem. See the explanation of Pratittyasamutpāda (the Sanskrit word for Paṭicca Samuppāda) on Wikipedia: Pratītyasamutpāda.

  • I think you will agree that it is confusing at best, with multiple possible meanings.
  • Even though “Dependent Origination” is better, it does not convey the whole meaning.
  • On the other hand, for someone knowledgeable in Pāli or Sinhala, the meaning is evident in the name itself: paṭi + icca sama+uppāda. Once the roots are explained, anyone can understand them in any language!
Pronunciation of Pāli Words

12. It is highly beneficial to learn how to pronounce Pāli words. When the European scholars started writing the Pāli Tipiṭaka with the English alphabet, they came up with a unique system that I call the Tipiṭaka English” Convention. It has helped keep the ‘word length” short.

Next, “Paṭicca samuppāda – Overview“, ………….

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